The following account is by George Barten, Colonel, USA,
Ret., former CO of the 2nd Battalion, 275th Infantry Regiment. It
depicts the opening days of Nordwind from the CO's point of view.
Mid morning, New Year's Day, 1945, just as Col. Charles S.
Pettee completed his combat order to battalion commanders, I
observed enemy artillery cratering the field and swirling the dead
leaves a little north of the 275th Infantry Philippsbourg C.P..
Capt. Harry W. Severance, later S-3, turned towards me with a
startled look, holding one of his forearms, bloodied by a shell
Nordwind had arrived with sleet of steel.
With company commanders and staff I proceeded to
Baerenthal to contact C.O. Task Force Hudelson for further orders;
the battalion executive officer, Maj. Wilmer Jean, to lead the 2nd
battalion up the Zintzel towards Baerenthal.
Company commanders reconnoitered the vicinity of
Baerenthal, later to meet me at a vantage point east of the Zintzel
At Task Force Hudelson C.P. the staff was burning
documents. Col. Daniel Hudelson, with a Klondike sized barkeeper's
thumb on the map, told me to defend a sector from Mouterhouse to
Philippsbourg, too wide a front for an infantry battalion. I knew
then the 2nd Battalion was on its own.
Back at the vantage point, late afternoon, I watched in
bemusement as scores of armored vehicles withdrew while the 2nd
Battalion was being trucked forward. Darkness was approaching. The
companies detrucked. Company commanders led them to dominating land
masses on each side of the Zintzel, not without incident: Co. 'E'
right, Co. 'G' left, Co. 'F' refusing the left flank in depth, Co.
'H' in support. A week later, for a change in scenery, positions
were switched: Co. 'E' left, Co. 'F' right, Co. 'G' left flank.
Wehrmacht infantry, reinforced by armor attacked,
supported by artillery; a meeting engagement at night, not exactly a
textbook situation. The Germans were duly surprised, as were we. At
dawn the battalion reorganized, dug in and took stock. There was a
large gap to Philippsbourg to the east and a wide open left flank. I
watched them like a hawk. I attempted a perimeter defense as welcome
units from the 3rd Battalion joined up. It sufficed.
As has been noted, the line was 'paper thin', but held,
initially supported by fourteen battalions of artillery. Coordinated
defensive fires gave comfort through man nights. There were no
Warning orders came from Division to brace for an attack.
I recall waiting it out on high, frozen ground, illuminated by
moonlight, the air permeated by an acrid but unidentified sweetish
odor. There with a silent prayer 'not to fail these men'..calm and
peace of mind descended.
January fourth several black painted, German piloted,
P-47s strafed the area, bombed the Teufel brueck just north of the
2d Bn. C.P., setting off prepared charges. Numerous beech trees
along the road to Baerenthal west of the Zintzel were felled to deny
it to tank or vehicle approach.
The 2nd Battalion C.P. in Muehlthal came under sporadic
mortar and artillery fire. A sheltered ammunition point (AP)
operated by Sgt. Ronald C. Klematsmo, Service Company, a quarter
mile or so down the Zintzel, was designated as a Dismount Point. Lt.
Col. Pierce, C.O. 1st Battalion, disregarded this precaution. The
rear end of his command jeep, including personal gear, was shredded
by an artillery round outside the C.P., followed by a reproachful
look. Paul J. Gartermann, his radio operator, driver and interpreter
salvaged the situation with concealed thoughts.
A battalion morgue protected the remains of several dozen
men in dignified array, to be evacuated by Lt. Gus Communtzis,
regimental special services officer, for burial at Epinal.
Villagers left Muehlthal. A helpless, bed ridden German
veteran of the Franco-Prussian War, uniform on bed, had been left
behind. Dr. Kurt Lekisch, 2d Bn. Surgeon, evacuated him to
Zinsweiler, with choice words for his family.
VT fuses, highly classified, had been lost by withdrawing
artillery. A directed search was futile.
The 2nd Battalion, Wrecker White, now 'blooded' in combat,
had shaken down, was a cohesive team. I had the distinct feeling
that each man had quietly proven his mettle in combat, now knew
himself, was a veteran at a young age.
Pence and Petersen depicted 275th action in 'Ordeal in the
Vosges'. In acknowledgement, the Army War College, to which I sent a
copy, stated it was part of the hardest fought action in the
theater, little recognized then, only recently being researched,
because the media had concentrated on the 'Battle of the Bulge'. (B.G.
Theodore Mataxis is taking action to complete the historical
I was grateful being entrusted to conduct this operation
without interference, coping only with the enemy and the elements -
determined to keep control.
Refer to 'Ordeal in the Vosges', Donald C. Pence and
Eugene J. Petersen, for details of 2d Bn., 275th Inf. action at
Baerenthal, also the 'Trailblazer' by Edmund Arnold.